Port Phillip needs its artists and its creative industries

A municipality that does not reach out to artists and support them will lose them. Is that the sort of place we want Port Phillip to be?

Covid 19 emptied diaries at surprising speed. 

Theatre, music and dance performances were cancelled; cinemas and galleries closed; comedy and irony ceased for a while.  We missed the queues of excited music lovers flowing down the Upper Esplanade anticipating a performance in the Gershwin Room. Whilst walking later in the evening it was eerily quiet as no music wafted from venues – whether it was jazz, hip hop or hard rock we missed it. No choir practice from the local neighbourhood house.  No excited children crammed on the footpath outside the National Theatre.  Linden was just a beautiful historic building with no opportunity to pop in to see the latest new art show.  Red Stitch Theatre and Theatre Works went into hibernation. Gasworks, too, fell silent but still provided great studios and coffee.

We quickly realised that it was not just us that were in trouble, the arts sector that employs many of our neighbours was and remains devastated. 

Arts and creative industries account for around 35 percent of the economic activity in our city and as a sector are the second largest employer in the City of Port Phillip. The top three being Design, Music and Film and Television. 

Whilst artists are important to the local economy, they are also important in the way they enrich all our lives and should be cherished and invested in by our Council.   

In times of community stress, arts and culture are important for social cohesion. As Julian Meyrick, Professor of Creative Arts at Griffith University, wrote in a recent article in The Conversation.

‘Firstly, our culture is a steady source of thoughts, feelings, stories, images and moments which coalesce and collectively define us – what the philosopher John Searle called “the background”. Culture brings us pleasure, connection, meaning and joy, and in the current situation that’s a significant contribution to our narrowing lives.

Secondly, and even more crucially, it is where we may find our best selves. To act in a creative way is to act generously. This is not to say that artists are better than anyone else, or that creativity is the sole preserve of the arts. It is to observe that to be creative is to give to others through a selfless impulse to share, and not just a desire to monetise that relationship as an economic transaction.’

As we move to the next phase of the pandemic it is timely to remember that musicians, actors, comedians, dancers, writers supplied us with joy and entertainment through the darkest times. They often did this without pay over a mass zoom or sometimes they charged us a small fee.  We could visit local galleries on a virtual tour.   

For our City to continue to be vibrant, liveable and enjoyable, creative workers and businesses need  continued support. 

Some of Australia’s great music has been written and performed in our city. Artists, actors, designers are our neighbours. For the City of Port Philip to be the place where we want to live, we must continue to support the arts in all its forms. 

In response to the crisis Port Phillip Council introduced an Arts Rescue Package of $180,000+ available to local artists, cultural organisations and creative businesses. 

Whilst this is a good start, is it enough and what else needs to be done?

The continued support of the 27 arts organisations within the Council’s budgetary program is a priority. It also needs to be truly committed to direction five of the Council Plan – We thrive by harnessing our creativity of which the third outcome is - arts, culture and creative expression are part of everyday life.

The Australian Government’s JobMaker plan for the Arts announced on June 25 includes $75 million in grants for new festivals, concerts, tours and events once social distancing eases and $35 million in cash for major arts and culture organisations in theatre, dance, circus and music who have struggled to cope with the total absence of box office income under the COVID-19 shutdown. The package also has a guarantee of $90 million worth of loans to the sector, and $50 million into an insurance fund to kickstart film and TV productions.

This funding package is welcome but it preferences larger events, significant arts organisations and film and television production. It is predicted to increase employment of artists in the longer term as well as employing tradies who make the sets.

However, many artists and industry experts say that it is unlikely small to medium arts organisations will receive much benefit. The venues and studios of Port Phillip are largely in that category, they are the incubators of talent, they support new artists and new stories. While many will go on to work with larger organisations, they still need places to practise and fine tune their talent such as a subsided studio space, a community theatre company or a gallery.  

The arts community is a significant part of the broader Port Phillip community. We want writers, dancers, musicians, singers, composers, painters, photographers, actors, comedians, designers, digi-warriors, producers and technicians to tell their stories and build their craft right here in Port Phillip. We value them. We want them to provoke and challenge us and to inspire our children.

A municipality that does not reach out to artists and support them will lose them. Is that the sort of place we want Port Phillip to be?